Thursday, June 23, 2016

Money Monster

MONEY MONSTER             C+               
USA  (98 mi)  2016  ‘Scope  d:  Jodie Foster

A dark film with timely ambitions of having something relevant to say about the global financial crisis of 2008 and the inexplicable bailout of Wall Street that actually caused the crisis, cynically suggesting the rich get richer by fleecing the public with get rich schemes that require manipulating the market, where there are winners and losers, but few questions asked, even under the most dire circumstances.  At the same time, the film caters to our prisoner of the moment fascination with the news, where only catastrophes get our attention, and then only for a moment to see how it all plays out before moving our attention elsewhere.  The film may unintentionally offer validation that we’re living in a police state, that the lives of the poor are not only marginalized, but sacrificed on a regular basis in the interests of protecting an elite class, whose own crimes are so willingly overlooked.  Featuring A-list Hollywood actors and tabloid icons, not to mention perennial People’s Choice nominees George Clooney and Julia Roberts, who first worked together in Soderbergh’s OCEANS ELEVEN (2001), they come across as best friends both on and off the screen, where Clooney plays Lee Gates, a smug TV host of his own show entitled Money Monster, complete with a musical theme and dancing girls, with a supposed knowledge of all things Wall Street, handing out stock tips, while Patty (Roberts) is the behind-the-scenes producer in the booth.  Their all-too ordinary lives get upended by the presence of an armed intruder on the set, Jack O’Connell as Kyle Budwell, an irate investor that lost $60,000, his entire life’s savings, who decides to hold the host hostage, claiming he’s responsible, placing him in a bomb-rigged suicide vest for insurance while holding the detonator in his hand.  From that point on, events unravel in real time, as viewers around the globe become fascinated with a live feed of the entire experience.  The question of whether Jodie Foster can direct is answered by the sheer conventionality of the film, which offers surprisingly few new ideas, lacking originality and a better screenwriter.  The product of a Hollywood system in which she was raised as a child actress, Foster probably thought this was a big story that would fill headlines, where there’s an urge to enlarge everything and make it bigger than it is, as if that’s entertainment, while a more carefully crafted film would break it down to smaller, more poignant moments that actually matter, where we might delve under the surface for intimate details of the character’s lives. 

“I might be the one with a gun here, but I am not the criminal,” explains Kyle to the cameras, reminding Gates that he was the one who recommended a certain stock named IBIS as a sure thing, but yesterday the stock plummeted, costing investors $800 million dollars, where the company’s vague explanation was the action occurred inexplicably due to a computer glitch.  Unable to grasp what that even means, but threatening to blow them all up unless they provide real answers, there is a side story following executives at IBIS, who are perplexed by the sudden disappearance of their CEO Walt Canby (Dominic West), who left unexpectedly for Geneva, Switzerland and is supposedly in the air on his executive jet, though he was scheduled to be a guest on the show.  Instead, they send a PR talking head, Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe), who was hooked up to a TV monitor, but makes a mad dash back to the office when she sees what transpires, where she and another male executive are simply befuddled about what to do other than stall until their CEO surfaces.  It’s interesting that the film takes great interest in exposing the layout of the television studio from all angles, how it looks from the booth, hearing Patty’s specific instructions to each of them, calling up certain monitors for the live shot, following the camera operators doing their jobs, yet this careful examination gets greater scrutiny than any of the characters, where instead we get neverending wisecracks from everyone involved, where the routine of the job has simply allowed them to tune out anything serious happening in their lives.  As a result, the film pales considerably from works it obviously drew inspiration from, such as Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Network (1976), iconic 70’s thrillers that doubled as absurdly humorous yet incisive cultural critiques.  Unfortunately, there’s an absence of humor and insight here, where small talk is allowed to take its place, ending up with the kind of dialogue that’s easily forgettable.  What is remarkable is that no one takes the computer glitch remark seriously, where instead this comes across as utter fiction, yet the news team goes to great lengths to identify the Korean computer programmer that designed the algorithm allegedly used by the company, whose explanation is that only a “human hand” could have caused the system to act the way it did. 

Meanwhile, even as the set is under siege, with Gates’ life repeatedly threatened by an increasingly unstable hijacker whose righteous anger is desperate to begin with, he seems to run out of options, so Gates, with Patty whispering instructions to him through an earpiece, is forced to try to find this kid some answers, turning him into something of a sympathetic figure, going into full investigative journalism mode in order to scour the inside operations of IBIS, while simultaneously the New York City police surround the set, install a few carefully placed snipers in the upper regions of the rafters, while they examine the possibility of shooting out the electric detonator receiver located on the suicide vest just above the kidney region, questioning whether Gates would survive a shot.  All bets are off, however, when the police find Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend (Emily Meade), putting her on a monitor with a live feed, but instead of sympathizing with Kyle, she rails against him in a lengthy tirade telling him what an idiot and complete loser he is before the police finally cut the feed.  This seems to sap all the life out of Kyle, turning him into a broken mess, where Gates has to come to his rescue.  As Diane begins to doubt the truthfulness of her boss, realizing he was never in Switzerland, she begins to feed inside information exclusively to Patty, which is then fed to Gates on the air.  Initially skeptical, Patty is forced to reassure Diane, “We don’t do gotcha journalism here, Diane—we don’t do journalism, period.”  It turns out Canby has returned to New York and intends to speak to the press at Federal Hall nearby, the site of the nation’s first capitol.  Unbelievably, Gates encourages Kyle, along with loyal cameraman Lenny (Lenny Venito) to march down the streets of New York, like a scene out of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), surrounded by a legion of cops with guns and rifles aimed straight at them, with Kyle continually blocking the vest transmitter, receiving hoots and catcalls from the mobs of bystanders on the street as they make their way to Federal Hall to confront Walt Canby.  Preposterous as it is, there is little to no suspense, largely due to the unimaginative way it’s filmed, losing its way in an attempt to tie up loose ends and make it all perfectly understandable, while the case against global capitalism simply fizzles into thin air.  Unfortunately, unlike the work of a professional investigative journalism team from a reputable news organization, like what was uncovered in Spotlight (2015), Foster resorts to manipulation tactics when the damning evidence is instead provided by a couple of drunken hackers in Iceland playing video games, who instead of proving the system is rigged, or making the case that corporations conspire to manipulate the markets by duping investors, which would be boring and way too complicated, can instead only provide evidence that Canby is lying to cover up his real intent, where his response to the cameras is simply, “What’s wrong with making a profit?”  Perhaps unsurprisingly, this film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, and while hardly an exposé equivalent to the tobacco industry’s decades-long history of lies and cover-ups that resulted in Michael Mann’s THE INSIDER (1999), the real conspiracy would be finding viewers who are stupid enough to place their financial fortunes in the hands of a TV Quiz Show host dressed in gold lamé pants, a glitter top hat, and surrounded by Fly Girls.

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